"This book is an attempt to reexamine Samuel Johnson's literary criticism in the context of current critical debates. Through juxtapositions of Johnson with such movements as poststructuralism, reader response criticism, and the New Historicism, Charles H. Hinnant seeks to create a justification for reexamining our conventional assumptions about Johnson's writings. More ambitiously, he intends to demonstrate the importance that Johnson's work might possibly hold for anyone concerned with issues in present-day literary criticism. The argument of this book is thus more closely related to the earlier investigations of William R. Keast, Jean H. Hagstrum, and Walter Jackson Bate than to the works of Paul Fussell and Leopold Damrosch, Jr. It holds that Johnson's unique combination of moral and critical analysis cannot be disengaged from theoretical assumptions and that a focus upon practical judgments invariably carries with it a conviction that the critical values behind those judgments are irrelevant."
"Thus Hinnant examines the contention that Johnson was a dogmatic critic, seeking to demonstrate that Johnson's claim to interpretive authority does not rest upon either theoretical demonstration or common sense perception but is rather located within an intermediate area of dialogue and debate. He also tries to show that the apparent simplicity with which Johnson views the classical relation between author, text, and audience is deceptive. These terms were given wide currency in Meyer Abrams's The Mirror and the Lamp, but the underlying relation Abrams posits takes for granted the unity and identity of the authorial and reading subjects. What is actually presented in Johnson's criticism, Hinnant contends, is a subject that is neither unified nor identical to itself. Later, Hinnant focuses on the relation for Johnson between the text and the external world. In contrast to the views of many eighteenth-century critics from Addison to Lord Kames, Johnson maintains that mimesis necessarily implies the absence of what it purports to represent and thus can never achieve what Kames calls "ideal presence."" "Hinnant devotes special attention to Johnson's interpretation of the classical doctrine that language is the dress of thought - to be amplified or compressed at the poet's will. That "words, being arbitrary, must owe their power to association, and have the influence, and that only, which custom has given them" is a notion that Johnson accepts as an article of faith. Yet it is precisely because of this notion that it sometimes becomes difficult, in Johnson's reasoning, to disentangle sense from sign, since the two may be bound up in such a way that prohibits any easy distinction between them. Thus if Johnson shows a pre-modern concern with language as the dress of thought, it is because he sees language as the ground of thought, not because he sees thought as the ground and determining origin of language."--Jacket
Includes bibliographical references (pages 237-244) and index
1. Introduction: Between Theory and Practice -- 2. Tradition and Critical Difference -- 3. Author, Work, and Audience -- 4. Presence and Representation -- 5. Recollection, Curiosity, and the Theory of Affects -- 6. The Dialectic of Original and Copy -- 7. Redefining Genre -- 8. Language as the Dress of Thought -- 9. Conclusion